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How ‘Wonder’ Will Become the $150 Million Hit of the Christmas Box Office

While it's not a blockbuster on the scale of "The Blind Side," Lionsgate's feel-good family film starring Julia Roberts is the same kind of surprise hit.

Wonder Jacob Tremblay

“Wonder”

Lionsgate’s “Wonder” made third place look sexy over Thanksgiving. After doubling predictions with $27.5 million on its opening weekend, it fell less than 18 percent on its second weekend— compared to the 56 percent drop for “Justice League” and 29 percent for “The Star,” the other two films that opened November 17. With $73 million domestic as of November 29, “Wonder” is fast approaching profit on a $20 million production budget.

In some key aspects, “Wonder” resembles “The Blind Side.” Both are based on feel-good best sellers (“Wonder” a novel, “The Blind Side” nonfiction) about young people who overcome school-year odds with the help of dedicated parental figures. Both films opened the weekend before Thanksgiving as counter-programming against a blockbuster (“The Twilight Saga: New Moon” then, “Justice League” here).

For a small family film, the date was a risk. While it could allow it to capitalize on holiday moviegoing, it needs a very strong response to hold playdates in the weeks before Christmas. However, experienced distributors will sometimes try if they have faith in a film’s word of mouth. (“Wonder” scored 68 on Metacritic — much better than 53 for “The Blind Side.”)

It’s also a date that can lend itself to reaching Academy voters looking beyond obvious candidates, or even critical support. “The Blind Side” had the luck of being released the first year of the expanded Best Picture Oscar lineup, which gave it an important second nomination that further elevated ultimate Best Actress winner Sandra Bullock. Like last year’s “Hacksaw Ridge” or “American Sniper,” it focused on heartland appeal; the Academy includes perspectives that reflect conventional-value films.

The appeal of “Wonder” includes a zeitgeist theme of confronting childhood bullies, with its central character a fifth-grade boy with a facial deformity. Its spotlight on an uplifting personal struggle overlaps with “The Blind Side” (white family takes in black high school football star to give him a safe place) with a general feel-good tone.

“The Blind Side”

That element may have helped earn “Wonder” an A+ Cinemascore from initial audiences (similar to “The Blind Side” and smash word-of-mouth “Hidden Figures,” which got the same rare grade). Though the score is variable in predicting long- term response, the rare A+ tends to suggest a long and healthy theatrical run.

All of this positions “Wonder” for something akin to the success seen by “The Blind Side,” although short of that film’s nearly $300 million domestic (in 2017 adjusted figures). However, $150 million is a realistic possibility for “Wonder,” which would be close to an amazing six times multiple.

This isn’t a major shortfall for “Wonder.” A major intervening factor is that, unlike “The Blind Side,” “Wonder” faced a new large-scale holiday opening with “Coco.” In 2009, the “major” competitors were were “Old Dogs” and “Ninja Assassin.”

“The Blind Side” remained in the top five for five weeks, with three weeks as #1. “Wonder” should stay in the top three, maybe even rising above “Justice League” one or both of the next weeks, before facing “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

However, Lionsgate doesn’t have a new Christmas release to compete for “Wonder” screen time — a major advantage when the traffic jam of contenders is at its most intense. That likely ensures it will continue to play most theaters through the bonanza of Christmas playtime.

Beyond delivering a very nice profit, “Wonder” will serve as another example — like “Hidden Figures,” “Get Out,” “Dunkirk,” “Split,” and “Girls Trip” — that standalone, lo-fi titles have a place in a well-rounded release schedule.

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